The silver and bronze medals won by Amit Kumar and Bajrang at the World Championships in Budapest meant that India had achieved their best-ever showing at the event. The medals also ensured that Indian mens team made the cut for the World Cup for the first time. The results,though encouraging,mask a long-term area of weakness: once again,the team failed to put up a fight in the higher weight divisions.
India have been doing well in the 55-66kg weight divisions in the last 6-8 years. Amit,Yogeshwar Dutt and Sushil Kumar have been on the podium at the Olympics,Asian Championships and the Worlds. But among the bigger grapplers,Palwinder Singh Cheema,who won bronze at the 2002 Asian Games,was perhaps the last to have won a major international medal (not counting the Commonwealth Games). Mahabali Satpal,who won three back-to-back medals at the Asian Games from 1974-82,was an all time great.
While these two came out of the dungal scene to dominate the Asian countries,others that followed them,it seems,have been content to sustain themselves with the earnings from the mud-wrestling scene. Joginder Kumar at the moment is Indias best hope in the 120kg division,but he did not participate in the trials that were held to decide the Worlds team. Instead he stayed away hoping instead to get big dungal invites,which can earn wrestlers Rs. one lakh for a win. He earns between 40-50 lakh per year from dungals; why would he be interested in winning one or two bouts at the worlds and returning empty handed? says former India coach Yashvir Singh.
It is understood that during their early years,earnings from dungal come in handy for wrestlers to sustain their dietary needs. But its continued relevance even after they make the Indian team is a problem,because the back-and-forth switch between mitti and mat is not helping anybody.
Vinayak is a principal correspondent based in New Delhi.